Payson Economy Stuck In First Gear

Town of Payson

Town of Payson Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Payson’s economy remains stubbornly stuck in first gear, lagging behind the economic recovery that has seemingly set in elsewhere in the state.

The town’s February economic report shows local sales tax collections have barely budged from last year — up about $8,000 for the fiscal year that started last June to $3.36 million — an rise of just two-tenths of one percent.

By contrast, the sales tax revenue collected statewide and distributed on a per capita basis increased by $32,000 to $718,000. That’s a 5 percent jump.

By the same token, shared income tax also collected on a statewide level and distributed on a per capita basis increased a heartening 17 percent.

Likewise, HURF payments from gas tax receipts statewide distributed on a per capita basis jumped by $72,000 to about $753,000 for the fiscal year. That’s a sign of the statewide recovery.

Most town sources of revenue based on local economic activity have barely changed since June, although the town’s economy last year was nothing to brag about.

For instance, payments for building permits surged late last summer, only to stall out. In November and December permits collapsed, crawled back up above the 2012 level in January then fell again in February. Overall, the value of building permits issued since the start of the fiscal year last June have dropped about 5 percent to $106,000.

One ray of hope for the crucial local construction industry glimmered in the report, with a big jump in plan review fees. That could mean a rise in construction down the road. So far this fiscal year, plan review fees have risen about 15 percent to $48,000.

The town’s budget remains tight, although Payson continues to aggressively seek to hire more police officers and earlier used a federal grant to increase manpower in the fire department by about 20 percent.

All told, the town’s revenue has lagged about $1.4 million behind what proved overly optimistic projections back in June.

Still, financial manager Hope Cribb’s February report sounded a reassuring note. She said while some of the town’s departments look like they’re over budget, mostly that’s a result of early payments for projected expenses — which will all even out by June.

For instance, the budget includes a $55,000 federal grant for the police department the town never received. It also includes things like a $370,000 project to rebuild and improve Bonita Street, canceled when the state cut back on gas tax money shared with the towns.

Most town departments continue to spend less than they budgeted, preventing the revenue shortfall from creating a serious problem.

The water department remains the single most expensive town function, although water bills, impact fees and grants cover the costs — which appear in their own category rather than in the town’s $13 million general fund.

The water department expected to collect $3.2 million at this point in the fiscal year, but has instead collected about $3 million — perhaps reflecting a suspected drop in the town’s population as young families move out in search of work. The water department also figured it would collect $4.6 million in impact fees to pay for the C.C. Cragin (Blue Ridge) Pipeline by now, but instead received only $2 million. If impact fee collections continue to lag, water users may have to cover a much larger share of the $34 million pipeline cost than town officials had originally hoped. The town also got a $10 million federal grant to help cover some of the costs of the pipeline.

The detailed sales tax figures by category showed strengths and weaknesses, although breakout lags a month behind the overall figures — so the sales figures by category in the February report reflect the $511,000 in sales tax receipts in January. The sales tax pays for most town services, including police and fire.

The biggest category — retail trade — rose about 3 percent to $290,000.

Other categories rose modestly, like hotels, restaurants and bars and real estate,

The big losers included construction — down 23 percent to $23,000, and communications and utilities, down 15 percent.

The figures showed gains for manufacturing — up 40 percent to $21,000, and arts and entertainment, up 200 percent to a still-modest $4,693.

Fortunately, given the lag in revenues, most town departments continued to spend less than they budgeted back in June.

Overall, spending in the town’s $13 million general fund — which includes all the departments except water — came in $1.3 million less than budgeted — $7.2 million rather than $8.6 million.

If the town ended up spending the full $13 million budgeted for the general fund, it would work out to about $860 per resident. The police and fire department budgets represent about $7.8 million of the $13 million — about 60 percent of the total.

At this point in the fiscal year, the police and fire department each remain about $500,000 behind their adopted budgets.

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